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Hamentashen

Hamentashen

Purim is a two day event beginning at sundown on the fourteenth day of Adar, the twelve month of the Jewish calendar.

Every race and religion has their solemn and their festive holidays. Purim is the most festive of the Jewish Holidays. Children dress in costumes and people give gifts. Usually solemn synagogues are turned into festive arenas. Children shake noise makers called “Graggers”.

The festive holiday centers around Queen Esther, King Ahasuerus (or Achashverosh), Mordecahi and Haman. The event took place in the Persian Empire in the fifth century, B.C. It is a celebration of a major victory against oppression of the Jews at that time.

In the third year of his reign, the King of Persia, Ahashverosh (also known as Ahasuerus and Ahashuerus) decided to have a feast. It was on the seventh day of these festivities that the King summoned his queen, Vashti, to appear before him and demonstrate her beauty for the King’s officials. Vashti refused to appear. (According to the Talmud, G-d afflicted her with leprosy to cause her downfall and Esther’s rise.) Incensed, the King asked his officers for a suitable punishment. One advisor, Memuchan (some think he was was actually Haman), argued that Vashti should be killed for her disobedience. The King took his advice and Vashti was killed.

As time passed the King desired a new queen. To find a suitable wife, a contest was initiated among all the eligible girls in the kingdom. One of those was Esther, a Jewish girl. Esther had been raised by her uncle Mordechai after her parents’ death. Mordechai instructed Esther not to divulge her Jewishness when she went to meet the king. Each day Mordechai walked by the court and inquired as to her well being. Esther impressed all who met her, including the King, and she was elevated to queen.

We are also commanded to eat, drink and be merry. According to the Talmud, a person is required to drink until he cannot tell the difference between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordecai,” though opinions differ as to exactly how drunk that is. A person certainly should not become so drunk that he might violate other commandments or get seriously ill. In addition, recovering alcoholics or others who might suffer serious harm from alcohol are exempt from this obligation.

HamentaschenIn addition, we are commanded to send out gifts of food or drink, and to make gifts to charity. The sending of gifts of food and drink is referred to as shalach manos (lit. sending out portions). Among Ashkenazic Jews, a common treat at this time of year is hamentaschen (lit. Haman’s pockets). These triangular fruit-filled cookies are supposed to represent Haman’s three-cornered hat. My recipe is included below.

It is customary to hold carnival-like celebrations on Purim, to perform plays and parodies, and to hold beauty contests. I have heard that the usual prohibitions against cross-dressing are lifted during this holiday, but I am not certain about that. Americans sometimes refer to Purim as the Jewish Mardi Gras.

Purim is not subject to the sabbath-like restrictions on work that some other holidays are; however, some sources indicate that we should not go about our ordinary business on Purim out of respect for the holiday.

Recipe for Hamentaschen

  • 2/3 cup butter or margarine
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup orange juice (the smooth kind, not the pulpy)
  • 1 cup white flour
  • 1 cup wheat flour (DO NOT substitute white flour! The wheat flour is necessary to achieve the right texture!)
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • Various preserves, fruit butters and/or pie fillings.

Blend butter and sugar thoroughly. Add the egg and blend thoroughly. Add OJ and blend thoroughly. Add flour, 1/2 cup at a time, alternating white and wheat, blending thoroughly between each. Add the baking powder and cinnamon with the last half cup of flour. Refrigerate batter overnight or at least a few hours. Roll as thin as you can without getting holes in the batter (roll it between two sheets of wax paper lightly dusted with flour for best results). Cut out 3 or 4 inch circles.

Proper folding of HamentaschenPut a dollop of filling in the middle of each circle. Fold up the sides to make a triangle, folding the last corner under the starting point, so that each side has corner that folds over and a corner that folds under (see picture at right). Folding in this “pinwheel” style will reduce the likelihood that the last side will fall open while cooking, spilling out the filling. It also tends to make a better triangle shape.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 15-20 minutes, until golden brown but before the filling boils over!

Traditional fillings are poppy seed and prune, but apricot is my favorite. Apple butter, pineapple preserves, and cherry pie filling all work quite well. I usually use Pathmark grocery store brand fruit preserves, and of course the traditional Simon Fischer brand prune lekvar. I have also made some with Nutella (chocolate-hazelnut spread); I find it a bit dry that way, but some people like it.

The number of cookies this recipe makes depends on the size of your cutting tool and the thickness you roll. I use a 4-1/4 inch cutting tool and roll to a medium thickness, and I get 20-24 cookies out of this recipe.

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